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WINCHESTER — Neither James Wood’s Adrian Pullen nor Millbrook’s Brian Burke knew that they were coaching the only two teams that had winning Class 4 Northwestern District records heading into Thursday’s rivalry matchup.

But, everyone in the ballpark at Millbrook knew that first place was on the line when the Colonels and the Pioneers clashed for the first time this season.

Round 1 went to James Wood as the Colonels got strong pitching from Nick Bell and Colin McGuire and took advantage of three errors in a three-run sixth inning to knock off Millbrook 4-1.

“It was just a classic Millbrook-James Wood baseball game,” said Pullen, whose squad improved to 10-2 overall and 6-0 in the district. “It’s going to be tight all of the time. It’s going to be who can capitalize on mistakes and take advantage of different situations. Tonight, it fell our way.”

Bell allowed six hits and a run over 6.1 innings and McGuire struck out two batters with two runners on base in the bottom of the seventh to close out the Pioneers (9-2, 5-1).

“It feels good,” said Bell (3-0), who struck out nine and did not walk a batter. “It’s a confidence boost, but as a team I don’t think we’ve played our best game still. We have a lot to work on.”

“It feels great,” echoed McGuire, who had a hit, scored a run and drove in one to go along with his save. “Every time we play this team, it’s one you kind of mark on the calendar. It’s a battle all of the way through and today it was another great battle. It feels good to get the first win. Hopefully, we can get the next one, too.”

Bell (0.45 ERA entering the game) and Millbrook’s Carl Keenan (3-0 and 1.36 ERA entering) were sharp from the start. Thanks to a pair of double plays, Keenan faced the minimum over the first four innings and the only baserunner that Bell had allowed over that span reached on an error.

“With Bell and Keenan, everybody got their money’s worth for at least five innings,” Burke said.

The Colonels broke the deadlock in the top of the fifth. McGuire led off by grounding a ball deep into the hole between third and shortstop for an infield hit. Then with McGuire running on a 1-0 pitch, Eli Miller sliced a perfect hit-and-run single into right field to put runners at first and third.

Keenan fought back with a strikeout, but Deuce Strosnider was able to loft a fly ball to right that was just deep enough to plate McGuire and give the Colonels a 1-0 lead.

Ryan Liero led off the bottom of the fifth with a single up the middle to break up Bell’s no-hitter and moved to second with a steal. Liero was on third with two outs, but Bell got out of the jam with a groundout that first baseman Jared Neal made a great pick after the throw went in the dirt to prevent an error.

The contest unraveled for Millbrook in the sixth. No. 9 hitter Michael Jackson drew a walk to open the inning and then took off for second on a steal. The throw was wide and Jackson rounded the bag and headed for third. The throw there sailed out of play to allow Jackson to score to make it 2-0.

John Copenhaver then singled. After a force at second on Kemper Omps’ bunt, Neal lined a single to right. The Pioneers threw to third and again the toss was offline. Omps scored and Neal hustled around to third on the play. McGuire, the Colonels’ cleanup hitter, then lofted a long fly ball to left field that easily plated Neal to make it 4-0.

“Hat’s off to James Wood. I think they did a great job of execution tonight,” Burke said. “Getting things going on that hit-and-run with Eli and we threw the ball around tonight, some uncharacteristic errors. We aren’t the most slick fielding team, but those errors tonight are just so uncharacteristic for this team. It just really put us in a bad situation.”

“When we got runners on we executed tonight,” Pullen said. “They didn’t make a couple of plays and that’s the difference in the ballgame.”

The Pioneers didn’t make it easy on Bell over the last two innings. Colin Stephanites and Keenan led off the bottom of the sixth with singles. Bell was able to get a strikeout and a 6-4-3 double play grounder to get out of the inning.

He wasn’t as fortunate an inning later. Chase Ford and Liero reached on singles to open the inning. Bell notched a strikeout, but Tanner Barb lined an RBI single to left to make it 4-1.

Pullen then went to McGuire to close it out and the senior, who entered the contest with a 0.88 ERA, didn’t disappoint. He blew away the next two hitters on eight total pitches.

McGuire seemed surprised when asked about how hard he was throwing.

“Really?,” he said. “I didn’t even notice. Maybe it was just the adrenaline rush. That was not my intention. I was out there to throw strikes and get them out.”

Bell said he was comfortable, despite another pressure start against a rival. “I don’t really worry about it,” he said. “I trust my team defense behind me. Tonight they made crazy plays behind me all night long.”

Bell said the key was to get ahead early in the count, especially with his breaking pitches. “I felt my off-speed, I located it well and I could throw it in counts where most guys would go fastball,” he said when asked what worked well against the Pioneers. “I kind of worked off my off-speed and used the fastball to get them off guard.”

McGuire said he enjoys everything about matchups against Millbrook, where the stands are always packed. The two squads met four times last season and all of the games were nail-biters.

“I love the atmosphere,” the senior said. “Every time we play this team, it’s a great atmosphere. The crowd is into it. The players are into it. People are chirping and I’m OK with that. It really sets the atmosphere and it’s the game of baseball. I love it.”

Both teams finished with six hits. Miller had two for the Colonels, while Liero had two for the Pioneers.

Keenan, featuring a wicked curve, struck out five and walked just one in six innings.

“His curveball was really good tonight,” Bell said. “He had us off-balance a lot.”

“I told the guys that we can’t waste an outing like that,” Burke said of Keenan’s pitching effort. “… If he’s out there doing his job, we have to do our jobs defensively and offensively. It’s not like we don’t work on it. Failure to execute against a team like James Wood, it’s going to come up and bite you.”

Millbrook is back in action on Friday at home against Warren. The Colonels next travel to Kettle Run, a team they beat 1-0 earlier this season, on Tuesday.

— Contact Walt Moody at

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